Saturday, December 31, 2016

Vengeance is mine, sayeth The Laird (@AsheBarker #highlandromance #spanking)

Laird and Sassenach cover

By Ashe Barker (Guest Blogger)

As 2016 shudders to a close (and I suspect more than a few of us are glad to see the back of it for a whole lot of reasons) I’m delighted to find there’s just time to squeeze out one last book to see in the New Year with a bang. My latest story which has just gone live on Amazon is set in the Scottish Highlands in the 1400s so I can promise you with absolute confidence there will be no mention of Brexit, presidential elections, the Olympics, killer clowns or the latest Star Wars epic.

What I do have to offer is a story of a man with justice to mete out, and a dilemma to face. Sometimes the truth seems to stare us in the face, at other times it may be not so clear where the blame lies. In the middle ages, of course, matters of crime and punishment, guilt or innocence were simple enough. The social hierarchies of the time placed authority and power in few hands and there were no qualifications required which entitled the privileged to rule. They were just handed the job and the common folk had to hope their leaders would turn out to be wise and fair. Sometimes they got lucky, and The Laird and the Sassenach is a story of one such instance.

I love to write historical stories. I am especially drawn to Highland fantasies, and why not? Who can resist the soaring Scottish scenery and sexy men in kilts? I find myself fascinated by that heady cocktail of honour and lawlessness, the atmospheric sensuality of the time and the way an all-powerful laird will reveal his soft centre just when it matters. But the Sassenach in the story also has her little quirks and faces some unique challenges. And look out for an unlikely star of the show. Freya the wolfhound has her part to play and I absolutely adored her.

I hope readers enjoy The Laird and the Sassenach as much as I loved writing it. And before I go, may I take this opportunity to thank Lisabet for inviting me over to see in the New Year with you, and all my readers for their support during 2016. I wish you all the best for a fabulously sexy New Year.

Enough from me. Now, here’s the blurb:

After her half-brother attacks the kinsmen of Blair McGregor, Lady Roselyn of Etal is brought before the stern highland laird to answer for her reluctant, unwitting role in the crime. Once she has told her story, she throws herself at his mercy.

Blair soon realizes that Roselyn is as much a victim of her half-brother as anyone, but his people’s demands for justice cannot be ignored entirely, so he strips the young Englishwoman bare and chastises her firmly with a switch applied to her naked backside.

The painful, humiliating punishment both assuages Roselyn’s guilt and leaves her yearning to be even more thoroughly mastered by the handsome laird. Though Blair makes it clear that she is free to return home, she instead chooses to remain with the him in his castle… and in his bed. Their passion soon blossoms into romance, but can the highlander protect his beautiful Sassenach when the villain who caused them both so much pain tries to tear her away from him?

Publisher’s Note: The Laird and the Sassenach includes spankings and sexual scenes. If such material offends you, please don’t buy this book.

Buy The Laird and the Sassenach NOW from Amazon

Prefer to try before you buy? Read Chapter One for FREE

To celebrate my final release of 2016 I’m offering three readers the chance to win their choice of ebook from my back list. Just leave a comment below to be entered in the draw, or for more chances to win you can follow this link to enter the Rafflecopter.

And how about an excerpt to whet the appetite? Here are a few paragraphs to help set the scene.

Excerpt 1 (PG)

I shall have to trouble you to remove your gown, Roselyn. And your shift. I require you naked to the waist.”

Her eyes darkened to a shade close to violet. “I cannot. You cannot ask that of me.”

I am not asking. It is not a request, it is a command. You will remove your clothing, or I shall summon a couple of my guards and they will remove it for you.” He stood and reached for her thin shoulder. Apart from offering her his arm to lead her into the solar this was the first time he had touched her and he was oddly pleased that despite her predicament and obvious fear she did not shrink away from him. He squeezed gently. “I do not intend to harm you, Roselyn, and this will be easier for you if just the two of us are present. If you require assistance I shall be pleased to aid you.”

She turned her face in his direction. “You really believe there might still be bruises.”

It is possible, aye. Shall we find out?” He deliberately gentled his tone, sensing that she was willing to do even this if it would help to bolster her case.

There was a brief pause. She chewed on her lower lip and twisted her fingers nervously. Moments passed, then she raised her face to grant him a tremulous smile. “Very well, my lord. Thank you.”

Thank you?”

For your offer of aid. I believe I shall require it for my hands are shaking.”

Fuck. He took no pleasure in that knowledge, though why he should care was beyond him. Blair turned her to face him and with a few deft movements untied the laces which held her kirtle closed at the neck. The garment was simple enough, and practical. He was glad of that as he separated the two halves and slid it off her shoulders and down her arms. Beneath she wore just a woollen leine, loose enough not to require any fastenings. The lower portion disappeared into the skirts of her kirtle, still held at the waist by her belt made of plaited leather. Blair loosened the belt to free the fabric beneath, then pulled the leine up out of the confines of her outer clothing. Despite her acquiescence Roselyn made a grab for the garment as he started to lift it higher.

Blair paused. “Roselyn?”

She released her grip on the soft wool and raised her arms obediently in order to allow him to draw it over her head. She was naked beneath.

She was his enemy, but that was no reason not to speak his mind. Blair made no pretence of not observing what was displayed before him.

You are quite lovely, Lady Roselyn.”

She gulped and laid her hands over the plump mounds. “Please…” she whispered.

He leaned in to murmur in her ear. “Do not be afraid. I mean you no harm here. I will touch you now, and if I hurt you, you must say so. Do you understand?”

Yes, sir.” Her lovely eyes were closed and she continued to worry her lower lip between her small white teeth. Despite his reassurances she was plainly terrified. The view was delightful but even so he opted to conclude their business as quickly as he might.

Turn to the right, if you please, to better catch the light from the window.” Not that he particularly required the benefit of improved illumination; the yellows and faint purplish smudges on her skin were plain to see. Blair was familiar with injuries acquired in battle and in training. He had sustained enough himself and had no difficulty in recognising the remnants of a severe battering. Both sides of her slender torso were similarly marked from just below her arms almost to her waist. He could not accurately date the original attack, but saw no cause to dispute her account of it.

He stroked the contours of her ribs on her left side, careful to exert no pressure. Even so, she winced. “Does it still pain ye, lass?”

Your hands are cold, my lord.”

Blair chuckled. “Ah, I apologise.” He stepped around to better examine the right side also. This time when he laid his fingers on her she remained still.

Are there bruises, my lord?”

Aye, there are.”

Then this will prove my account? You believe me?”

It helps, without doubt. ‘Tis a pity we have no witness to support your story, though I daresay I could dispatch men to Kelso to question the Reverend Mother.”

You would do that?”

He was surprised to realise that he would. Indeed he would, for he found he badly wanted to prove the mitigating circumstances which might help excuse Lady Roselyn’s actions. He was not a fool, Blair knew his people well. He would have to present convincing evidence of coercion in order to satisfy the members of Clan McGregor who would demand retribution for the deaths of their kinsfolk. As matters stood they would expect him to hang the English wench and would consider that a merciful end. It might yet come to that, but despite his earlier intentions he now found he had no real stomach for heaping his vengeance upon this fragile wench.

Excerpt 2 (X rated)

Will you beat me again?”

Aye, if you deserve it. For disobedience or disrespect. I am master here and that will apply to all. But you would not find me cruel. Indeed, I believe you would find pleasure in what I offer.”

Pleasure, my lord? I do not quite take your meaning.”

Will you not own to the slightest stirring? You may deny your arousal but your body betrays ye, Roselyn. Your nipples are swollen, your eyes have darkened as you consider my offer. I believe if you were to spread your thighs for me now I would find you wet.”

Wet?” She drew in a shuddering breath. “My nipples… it is chilly in here.”

Nay, it is not. I banked up the fire afore I woke you. Stop making excuses and open your legs for me, Roselyn.”

I will not.”

Yes, you will, and you will do it now.”


He trailed his fingers the length of her body, tracing a path between her breasts and across her flat stomach to her mound. There he teased the auburn curls which protected her most intimate place.

Open for me.” He leaned in to whisper the words into her ear, his familiar male smell overwhelming her senses. He was spice, and he was musk, heather, pine, and something mysteriously unique, an essence which was only his.

Roselyn was lost, mesmerised. She rolled fully onto her back, even managed not to wince as her weight settled on her punished buttocks. Bending her knees a little, she allowed him to tease her thighs apart. His slid his hand between her legs and stroked her moist folds.

Ah, so deliciously damp. Roselyn, you do indeed delight me.”

My lord…” She was lost, her words buried under the waves of pure sensation. “What are you doing to me?”

I am pleasuring ye, sweetheart. Be still for me, and open wider.”

As though in a trance, wrapped in fog of unaccustomed sensuality, Roselyn obeyed. She arched her back and let out a sharp cry as he slipped one long finger into her wet channel.

He paused. “Did I hurt ye?”

She shook her head. “No. It was… oh, please do that once more if you would.”

He thrust his finger into her again, then added a second digit. Unfamiliar sensations assailed Roselyn, both confusing and exciting. And intense. It was incredible, unbelievable. Her head whirled. She felt tight, stretched, yet at the same time she wanted nothing other than to spread her body open, to welcome this intrusion. He was right, this was about pleasure. It was a strange sort of joy, but she craved it nonetheless.

That feels good, my lord.”

My title is laird, not lord, but I believe we are on first name terms now. You will use my given name, most particularly when my fingers or indeed any part of my anatomy is lodged within your sweet cunt.”

Oh, God…”

Nay, just Blair will do.” He withdrew his fingers and resumed stroking her outer lips. He found a spot which brought Roselyn’s hips right up from the mattress. “Ah, now I see I have your complete attention. Perhaps you might like to practice using my name.” He paused in his sensuous rubbing and Roselyn moaned her need.

Say my name,” he urged.

Blair.” She whispered it.

He resumed the torturous caress. “Again. Say it again. Louder.”

She raised her voice a little. “Blair.”

Better. And you will scream my name when you find your release.”


He took that most sensitive nubbin between his fingers and he squeezed. Something clenched within, deep in her core, and Roselyn longed for his fingers to be inside her tight channel again. She yearned to be filled, stretched, owned.

Could you…? Blair, I need…”

I know.” He continued to roll her sensitive flesh between his fingers, whilst he used his free hand to open that most secret place and plunged two digits into her again.

It was too much. Roselyn could no longer speak, could not even form a coherent thought. She could only feel as irresistible shudders rocked her slight form and her inner walls clenched helplessly around his fingers. She arched further, lifting her hips, pleading for something, anything…

Oh, Blair. Blair, Blair, Blair!” She let out a keening wail as the sensations peaked and her body convulsed, then, gasping, she stilled.

More about Ashe Barker

USA Today best-selling author Ashe Barker has been an avid reader of fiction for many years, erotic and other genres. She still loves reading, the hotter the better. But now she has a good excuse for her guilty pleasure – research.

Ashe tends to draw on her own experience to lend colour, detail and realism to her plots and characters. An incident here, a chance remark there, a bizarre event or quirky character, any of these can spark a story idea.

Ashe lives in the North of England, on the edge of the Brontë moors and enjoys the occasional flirtation with pole dancing and drinking Earl Grey tea. When not writing – which is not very often these days - her time is divided between her role as taxi driver for her teenage daughter, and caring for a menagerie of dogs, tortoises. And a very grumpy cockatiel.

At the last count Ashe had over forty titles on general release with publishers on both sides of the Atlantic, and several more in the pipeline. She writes M/f, M/M, and occasionally rings the changes with a little M/M/f. Ashe’s books invariably feature BDSM. She writes explicit stories, always hot, but offering far more than just sizzling sex. Ashe likes to read about complex characters, and to lose herself in compelling plots, so that’s what she writes too.

Ashe has a pile of story ideas still to work through, and keeps thinking of new ones at the most unlikely moments, so you can expect to see a lot more from her.

Ashe loves to hear from readers. Here are her social media links:

Or you can email her directly at ashe.barker1 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Season of Kisses (#mistletoe #kisses #newyears)

Mistletoe berries

I received my first French kiss in front of a Christmas tree, from the man who would later become my first lover. I can recall the scene surprisingly well. I was fourteen, staying with my aunt over the holidays. Although she was born Jewish and at time was a disciple of an Indian guru, she had for some reason set up a tree in the living room. I remember that the twinkle of the lights twining through the branches was the only illumination. The moment has a silvery glow in my recollection. P. encircled me with his arms and pulled me against his chest, while planting his lips firmly on mine. I had no idea how to react.

Then suddenly his tongue was in my mouth. The intimacy of that sensation shocked me. I guess I knew about French kisses, academically speaking, but the reality was like nothing I'd imagined. I felt excited and scared and very confused, not knowing what to do exactly, but really, really wanting to get it right. He held me there, exploring me, for what seemed like hours. Afterward, in my room, I was so high I thought I'd float right off the bed. He wanted me -- me, shy and awkward as I was, with my heavy-framed glasses, plump thighs and frizzy hair... As for P., he was as beautiful as an angel, pale as snow, with hair like spun gold and sea-blue eyes. And he smelled so good... that's one thing I remember, incense and sweat and peppermint from the candy canes we'd been eating, strange, male, but so delicious...

Mistletoe, it turns out, has had spiritual or magical significance for millenia. It is associated with the divine male essence, hence potency and virility (possibly because the waxy white berries resemble drops of semen). The plant is also entangled in a resurrection myth.

An old Norse tale recounts the birth of the god Baldur, son of Frigga and Odin, the king of the gods. A prophecy regarding Baldur's premature death led Frigga to extract a promise from every plant and animal on earth, that they would never harm her son. Somehow, however, she omitted the mistletoe plant and when Baldur reached glorious manhood, Loki tricked Baldur's blind brother into slaying him with an arrow fashioned from mistletoe. Baldur was dragged into the underworld, but like Osiris and Persephone, was brought back to life by the efforts of a loving woman (in this case his mother).

After Baldur's resurrection, Frigga declared mistletoe to be thenceforth the plant of peace. None of this, of course, explains why mistletoe has become a license to kiss, although the links with the solstice season are clear. Mistletoe is evergreen, symbolizing everlasting life. Pre-Christian cultures associate midwinter with the death and rebirth of the sun. These themes continue to echo in the Christmas story itself.

Apparently American author Washington Irving wrote about the mistletoe kiss tradition as early as 1820. This suggests that it has been practiced for a good deal longer. Most of the sources I found pointed to Scandinavia as the original source of the custom.

However they originated, kisses under the mistletoe retain a sense of mischievous transgression. It doesn't matter who you are, how old you are, to whom you're married. If someone catches you beneath that sprig of emerald leaves and snowy berries, you must submit to his or her kiss. To resist is considered to bring terrible luck. And who knows what you'll discover, mouth to mouth, breath to breath? The potent magic of the Druid's sacred plant might lead to ecstasy -- or even love.

I'll leave you with a literary kiss, one of my very favorites, from my holiday tale Almost Home.

The kiss caught her off guard.

One moment Suzanne was standing in the doorway to Helena’s den, scanning the occupants and wondering if she knew anyone at all at this party. The next moment someone twirled her around and fastened a pair of firm lips on hers. Out of instinct or habit, she closed her eyes. The darkness heightened her other senses. Powerful arms circled her body and pulled her against a fuzzy male chest. Her partner’s scent rose around her, a complex mix of soap and musk, evergreen and wood smoke. His tongue teased the seam where her lips met and she let him enter, her self-protective reflexes dulled by his warmth and the glass of merlot she’d downed on her arrival. His mouth tasted of eggnog and candy canes, appropriately seasonal. He was delicious, in fact—not just his mouth but the quiet confidence of his probing tongue, the sculpted muscle she felt under his sweater, his bold hands wandering across her back to her buttocks. She hadn’t enjoyed a kiss like this in a long time.

She’d felt chilled and tense ever since her plane touched down in frigid Boston but now her muscles began to unknot. He was a miniature sun, melting her, turning her languid and dreamy. She clutched at his solid form and returned his kiss, trading heat for heat. Tropical colours paraded behind her eyelids—fuschia, lime, peach, and aqua—shimmering like the water in her pool back home. She even began to perspire, her long-sleeved velvet dress suddenly too warm for comfort.

He pulled her full hips against his lean ones. A tell-tale lump, wonderfully hard, pressed against her belly. Her panties and tights dampened, too.

Normally she would have resisted but stress and alcohol made her susceptible. She allowed the kiss to lengthen and deepen, sinking into the pure pleasure of it.

Here’s to lots more kisses in the new year!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Spotlight: Cubeball by Michael Leon (#review #scifi #giveaway @MichaelLeon0433)

Cubeball cover


A naturally gifted ex-national champion and a savant with a computer-like mind compete against the world's best in the 22nd century's most popular sport - CUBEBALL - the chess-like, technology-enhanced, snooker of the future where the world stage is dominated by gambling, drugs and massive audiences.


For billions of fans worldwide, Cubeball is the most thrilling sport available in the twenty second century, a fast-paced, high-stakes game combining skill, strategy and luck. Obsessed viewers spend hours watching broadcast matches and fight for tickets to live contests.

For managers, advertisers, gamblers and criminals, Cubeball is big business. Millions of credits are won or lost in a single competition, but that’s just the beginning. Cubeball champions are the rock stars of the era, worshiped and emulated, and their product endorsements are practically priceless.

For Mickey Allen, however, Cubeball is art and passion, a vocation, almost a religion. Mickey has a rare natural gift for the technologically enhanced, three dimensional descendant of billiards. From his earliest years, he has possessed a near-mystical ability to understand the impossibly complex interaction of forces that control the myriad balls and their trajectories. As the sport becomes increasingly influenced by high technology and by performance-boosting drugs and supplements, Mickey continues to play pure Cubeball, relying on his intuition and inner vision.

Ten years before the start of the novel, Mickey fled to Mars after being forced by his corrupt manager Johnnie to throw a championship match. Now, broke and desperate, he has returned to Earth, and to the only thing he really knows or cares about: Cubeball. He struggles against the insidious influence of his former manager, the chilly disdain of his brilliant sister Riley, and his own tendencies toward alcohol and drug addiction. His goals: to reclaim the championship title, make enough money to clear his debts, and set to rest the ghost of Jules, the woman he’d once loved, whom Johnnie had destroyed.

He finds unlikely allies in Ludwig, an autistic savant who sees the Cubeball plays as visual music, and in his rehab therapist Dr. Harry Vance. However, Johnnie is richer, more powerful and more evil than ever, Riley’s loyalties are not clear, and the new generation of top-rated Cubeball players are ten years younger and sharper than Mickey, but just as hungry. If Mickey loses the championship, he will have lost everything.

I am not generally a fan of sports-themed stories, although science fiction is one of my favorite genres. In addition, the first few chapters made it clear to me that Cubeball is no literary masterpiece. The writing is awkward in some places, and I noticed a number of serious editing errors. Nevertheless, this novel hooked me from the start. It’s written with passion, more than skill. Somehow, the author really made me care about Mickey and his quest to recover his life and his self-respect. I raced through the nearly 300 pages of the novel, eager to see how Mickey fared. After all, this is scifi. Happy endings are not required.

Though I never really managed to visualize how Cubeball is played, Mickey’s talent for the game is vividly portrayed and endlessly fascinating. When Ludwig appears in the tale, he complements Mickey’s physical prowess with his transcendental visions of action and reaction. Both Mickey and Ludwig are underdogs, despised by society. There’s a deep satisfaction in seeing them triumph, especially since it’s not an easy process.

Some aspects of Michael Leon’s portrayal of the twenty second century seem like natural extensions of current societal trends. The mass fervor associated with Cubeball is not that different from today’s sports manias. (The rampant commercialism is equally familiar.) Other features of Leon’s worldfor instance, the drug-drenched virtualities of the Velvet Underground—struck me as more original and surprising. Ultimately, though, I felt that the futuristic background of the novel was not all that important to its goals. Really, the book is about a man following his dream, overcoming both internal and external obstacles to achieve the success that is his birthright. This is a timeless journey.


Jules’ gaze emboldened Mickey to reveal his special gift to her. He strode confidently to the cue-ball and lined up one of the most difficult shots in cubeball. Then with little thought, he cracked the cue-ball with a force that matched the passion he was feeling. The curve on the first line was more pronounced than the programmed line set by the computer.

Mickey had struck the perfect shot. Sam and Riley sat staring at the console, mesmerised by what they had just seen and eager to re-capture its perfection on replay. Only champions could play this way and it was clear to all that Mickey was developing into one.

Fucking incredible,” said Johnnie. His eyes were wide. Filled with awe for Mickey’s skills and expectation with how much he could earn from it.

Mickey didn’t hear his appreciative manager. He didn’t see the small tear that had formed in his kid sister’s admiring eye. His gaze remained on Jules. She brushed her hair back on to her shoulders before resting her slender hands on her hips. Her mouth was wide open, breathing in her excitement for what she had just seen. Then her eyes revealed that there was more to her feelings than that of an adoring fan. Her gaze began to fill with a stirring hunger. Fate was beginning to move into Mickey’s life like an evening moon tide.

About the Author

I worked with national and international organisations as a business analyst in Australia and overseas. I authored many business books analysing the foodservice and food retail industry in Australia, Europe and Asia, as well as agribusiness global trends. I also ran a consultancy business that assisted Australian enterprises to develop new markets in Australia and overseas.

I commenced writing science fiction novels full time in 2009. It was a life-long interest of mine. I have written five novels - all exploring contemporary social issues in future speculative worlds. They are: Shadow Dance; Extinction; Cubeball; Titan Sages and Alive. My novels blend speculative science, new age and poetry. Readers of novels such as Carl Sagan’s Contact would enjoy my novels.


Buy links

Cubeball is only 99 cents during the tour!

Michael will be awarding a $20 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

December 8: Fangirls Read It First
December 15: Long and Short Reviews
December 29: Beyond Romance
January 5: Magic and Machines

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Character Interview: Ruby Maxwell Chen (#bdsm #feminism #power)

Nasty Business cover

Normally, I host guests on Wednesdays. What with the holidays and all, somehow I didn't manage to book anyone. I figured I'd interview one of my characters to fill the gap. Ruby Maxwell Chen is the heroine of my taboo erotic romance Nasty Business. Since she always has something to say, I'll hand the blog over to her!

Interviewer: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

Ruby: It’s my pleasure. I’m happy to have the chance to tell readers my side of the story.

I: Well, let’s begin with some background. You’re the CEO of the Maxwell Companies, a multinational industrial conglomerate. Yet you’re only in your mid twenties. How did a woman so young find herself in a position of such power and responsibility?.

R: My father, Liu Chen, founded Maxwell Companies more than twenty years ago. From a very early age, he groomed me to become his successor. At eighteen, I began a formal apprenticeship. He taught me everything he could about corporate strategy, finance, negotiation – all the skills that I’d need. Of course we didn’t expect that I’d be taking over so soon. After the car accident, though, I had no choice but to step into his position, although it’s incredibly difficult to try to match his business acumen. I do the best that I can.

I: You’re renowned throughout the business community as a tough negotiator. How do you feel about that?

R: I’m proud of my reputation. I’ve earned it.

I: You don’t mind what they call you? “Ruthless Ruby”?

R: (Laugh) As long as my bottom line looks healthy, it doesn’t bother me. A lot of that gossip is simply envy.

I: But – there are rumors that you use your considerable charms to influence your negotiations. That you take advantage, sexually, of your male colleagues.

R: Just rumors. Gossip, as I said. In any case, men have been doing that, taking sexual advantage, ever since women entered the workplace. Why shouldn’t I even the score?

I: Okay... let me change the subject. When you first met Rick Martell, what did you think of him? What were your first impressions?

R: Honestly? I was so turned on that I could hardly talk straight. He’s not particularly outstanding in the looks department, but that man has incredible sexual charisma. Everyone seems susceptible to it, even my straight-laced personal secretary Margaret. It must be something biological. Pheromones or something similar. In any case, I had to keep tight rein on my emotions and reactions during that first interview. Of course, I had met him before, the previous evening, not knowing that it was him...

I: Really? What do you mean?

R: I’d rather not talk about it. For one thing, I don’t want to destroy the suspense for readers.

I: So now that you know Rick better, what do you think?

R: He’s brilliant, but devious. He enjoys playing games, and even more, he enjoys winning.

I: Sounds like you.

R: No comment.

I: Who do you think was the winner in your conflict over the factory in Malaysia? You both swore that acquiring it was essential to your companies.

R: In one sense, neither of us won. The factory turned out to be a poisoned acquisition, laden with hidden debt. We were fortunate that we discovered this before either of us invested. In reality, though, we both won. As you know, if you’ve read the book, each of us learned some valuable lessons about our own desires – and about each other. We were changed by our encounter and our conflict.

I: If it’s not too personal to ask, what did you learn?

R: I came to see that yielding is not necessarily a weakness. And that trust is difficult, but possible. Also, I realized that my self-image as a cynical, hard-hearted dominatrix was a bit unrealistic. I met a real dominatrix and saw how I was only an amateur by comparison.

I: What about love? Any insights in that area?

R: Now you are getting too personal! If your readers want to know about that topic, they’ll just have to read the book. Now I hope you’ll excuse me. I have a board meeting in fifteen minutes.

I: Of course, Ruby. Thank you for consenting to the interview. And good luck with Mr. Martell.

R: You’re welcome. But don’t give the story away!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Review Tuesday: Divine Torment by Janine Ashbless (#reviewtuesday #fantasy #blacklace)

Divine Torment by Janine Ashbless
Black Lace/Virgin Books, 2007

Many years ago, I reviewed Janine Ashbless’ Burning Bright, the sequel to Divine Torment. At the time, I commented that I was curious regarding the main characters’ history. In Burning Bright, we learn that both Myrna and Veraine had betrayed their peoples and their destinies for the sake of love, but little more. Thus I was delighted to receive an invitation to read the volume that details the adventure that brought Myrna and Veraine together.

In Divine Torment, the warrior Veraine, scion of a great general of the Irolian empire and a slave girl, is dispatched with his army to protect the vassal city Mulhanabin from the devastating attacks of a fierce Mongol-like horde of nomads. Mulhanabin, an ancient stone edifice at the edge of the desert, is the demesne of the Malia Shah, the Yamani goddess of destruction, pestilence and chaos.

The latest incarnation of the Malia Shah is a copper-haired, dark-skinned girl trained to disregard both pain and pleasure in her quest to escape from the cycles of rebirth. She becomes Veraine’s obsession from the moment he sees her, yet she appears to be serious and aloof, insulated from mortal concerns. Whether performing ceremonies of human sacrifice or enduring the disgusting worship of the eunuch head priest Rasa Belit, she remains unmoved. Yet she dreams of overwhelming passion in the arms of the Sun, experiencing in her visions the annihilation of individuality that is the essence of godhead.

Not much happens after Veraine arrives. The Horse-Eaters attack the temple-city and Veraine’s army, though desperately outnumbered, defeats them, assisted by an earthquake invoked by the Malia Shah. Rasa Belit attempts to murder Veraine and of course fails. Veraine witnesses the Malia Shah’s bloodthirsty rituals, yet his horror is not sufficient to kill his desire. Finally, the two fated lovers come together, in a marathon coupling that leaves them bruised and sore, yet completely unsated.

Only when they are discovered does it become clear that both of them have thrown away their present lives for the sake of their love. The goddess, caught in the blasphemous act of fucking a mortal, in interred in her room and left to die slowly. Rasa Belit prepares to carve up Veraine’s genitals, slice by tiny slice.

I will not reveal any more of the plot, although the existence of the sequel obviously means that both protagonists survive.

I have very mixed feeling about Divine Torment. The early chapters are bland and lack coherent structure. Random sex scenes occur to liven things up, but the plot seems to limp. The Malia Shah is more an absence than a character. Her primary attribute is her cultivated lack of emotion, which makes her seem other-worldly but hardly the figure to ignite such desire in an experienced cocksman like Veraine. Of course, they are destined soul-mates, so perhaps no justification is required. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to care about his obsession because it seemed arbitrary and implausible.

The last seventy five pages, on the other hand, pulse with passion and drama. When Veraine and the Malia Shah are torn apart, the full weight of their choice and its consequences crashes down upon the reader. The worst aspect of their individual punishments is their separation. This is high romance, well-executed, with the emotional intensity that I’d been waiting for through the earlier sections of the book.

In my review of Burning Bright, I praised Ms. Ashbless’ ability to vividly portray differing cultures and exotic locales. Divine Torment does not measure up in this regard. I never really developed a clear sense of the temple and its precincts. Although Mulhanabin lies in the desert, I never felt the dryness in my nostrils, suffered under the parching sun, saw the dust swirling in the narrow lanes of the city. The religion of Mulhanabin borrows heavily from the Hindu cult of Kali. It was audacious of the author to make her goddess frightful and cruel rather than beneficent, but the theology is hardly original.

And yet, when I go back and re-read selected passages of the novel, I find thoughtful, well-crafted prose. I don’t fully understand why my overall reaction is so luke-warm:

I feel the fly tickling across my thumb onto the back of my hand. The sensation is like a line of light drawn across a dark place; I can’t ignore it. The feeling is there. It is an insect, so I should be irritated and flick it away. But if it were not an insect, if that same sensation were a fingertip drawn across my skin by a man, would it be pleasure I felt instead of irritation? It depends on which man. The meaning is not in the feeling, it is in my response.
He is not the master of his flesh. He has not learned that significance is a habit of mind. I was taught long ago that it is not necessary to give meaning to sensation. Pain does not matter any more than pleasure. Lust is not more significant than an insect itch. The marks on the scroll do not have to be words. If you look at them, they are just marks.

But, she thought, the poem is beautiful.

I do not want it to be lost when the priests die.

I leaf through the book and find pages like this, quiet and glowing insights into the mind and heart of the girl-goddess. Perhaps it is because they are so quiet that they made so little impression, on my first reading. Perhaps it is because they are scattered, unpredictable, among the rough actions and unreflective decisions of the brave but somewhat boorish Veraine.

Perhaps if I reread the book from the start, I’d find more that I missed.

I probably should say something about the sex scenes in Divine Torment. What shall I say? The first such scene in the book, a frolic involving Veraine and two slave girls, screams “gratuitous sex”. It neither furthers the plot nor reveals character. Other scenes have more to redeem them. The second, a tale of sexual discovery and torment recounted by Veraine’s cultural attaché Rumayn, has the virtues of illuminating Yamani superstition and cruelty. There is a male-male scene, in which Veraine inflicts his frustrated lust upon his handsome and willing chariot driver, and a breathlessly intense coupling between Veraine and the Malia Shah that turns out to be a dream. There is a brothel scene, and a prison/bondage scene, and a wonderfully kinky and repulsive scene in which the high priest grovels at the goddess’ feet. If you are looking for sex, this book offers quite a bit, but in some cases it is not well integrated with the plot.

Finally, I am left with confused impressions: searing passion and mundane lust, unearthly wisdom and ordinary confusion, divine fate and mortal blindness. I think I must recommend that readers form their own opinions.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Sneak Peek: At the Heart of the Stone by Roxanne D. Howard (#fantasy #eroticromance #giveaway @RoxanneDHoward)

At the Heart of the Stone cover


Dreams are the perfect shelter for our fantasies, safe havens to step inside without changing our daily lives. For Lark Braithwaite, all that is about to change. During the last six months, Lark has dreamt of a mysterious Irish lover who knows what she wants and gives her exactly what she needs. In her waking life in busy London, things aren’t as ideal, as her long-term relationship with Charles, her controlling fiancé, has hit a dry spell.

When Lark is called home to Oregon for her father’s funeral right in the middle of a high-stakes corporate merger, she heads back to face the demons from her past. What she doesn’t expect is to meet her dream lover in the flesh. Niall O’Hagan steps straight out of her fantasies and right into her life, and the powerful connection they share rocks her foundation. Although she's dealing with the bitterness of being betrayed by Charles and his jealousy, Niall soon stirs Lark’s awareness of the superficiality of her existence and reawakens not only her sexuality, but her soul.


She bit her lower lip, trying to get on solid ground, but from the hunger on his face, she shouldn’t have done that. The imprint of last night’s dream was still fresh in her mind, and she went for a bitchier approach, hoping to deter him. “Oh, please, Niall. My dad was more of a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do type of parent. So right now, I need these more than I need to be lectured, thank you very much.”

He shrugged a shoulder, and a wayward dark curl fell over his left eyebrow. “Fair enough. Could I make an observation, though?”

Lark put the cigarette between two fingers and played with the lighter in her other hand, prepared to take it outside. “Could I stop you?”

The corners of Niall’s mouth twitched. He glanced down, and she moved in for the kill.

What? Oh, I’m sorry, are you intimidated by strong women?”

His gaze shot back up and fixed on hers. “Oh, no. On the contrary; I find it alluring. I find you, in particular, extremely alluring, though it’s unethical.”

Panic shot through her. What in tarnation was she doing? She should tell him she was with Charles, discourage him. But the way his eyes caught the hallway light, turning them a deep viridian, reminded her of their tryst in the cottage. She said nothing, but her nipples peaked and pressed against her shirt like hard pebbles. He glanced down at them and moved toward her until she found herself pushed up against the wall, trapped. She wasn’t an expert at reading people or anything, but I want you might as well have been written on his forehead in permanent marker. He dropped his law books on the floor without preamble and cupped her face in his hands, leaning forward to kiss her, with no uncertainty this time.

Stunned, she dropped her smoking items as his mouth claimed hers. She let out an involuntary whimper as he touched his tongue to hers, and it appeared to be all the encouragement he needed. With a groan, he fisted the lower back of her shirt and tugged her toward him as his other hand sought the side of her neck.

About Roxanne

Roxanne D. Howard is a romance novelist who resides in the mid-western United States. Her first award-winning novel, At the Heart of the Stone, was published in February 2016 with Loose Id. Her other titles include Chicks Dig the Accent, and the recently released three-part Costa Mesa Series. Roxanne is a U.S. Army veteran, and has a bachelor's degree in Psychology and English. She loves to read poetry, classical literature, and Stephen King. She is also an avid Star Wars fan, musical theater nut, and loves everything related to marine biology. She is the proud mother of two beautiful girls, several pets, and loves to spend time with her husband and children when she's not writing. Roxanne loves to hear from her readers, and she can be contacted at author [at] roxannedhoward [dot] com. To find out more, please visit her website at

Note:Winner of the Coffee Time Romance Reviewer's Award!

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